Heat’s Big Three dominate Game 4 to even the Finals at two games apiece

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SAN ANTONIO — LeBron James was the one who took the bulk of the criticism for the Heat’s 36-point loss in Game 3, largely due to a 15-point outing that didn’t include a single free throw attempt.

But Dwyane Wade knew better. He was well aware that for Miami to bounce back and remain in the hunt for a second consecutive title, it would take all three of Miami’s stars to come through in a big way to hold off a very formidable Spurs opponent.

“Obviously it starts with us three,” Wade said on Wednesday. “We have to do a better job of being that quote, unquote, Big Three and leading our team … If us three don’t lead the charge, we’re not going to be NBA champions. Our teammates count on us, so we have to step up.”

Wade personally led that charge on Thursday, and LeBron and Chris Bosh were just as dominant as the Heat evened the Finals at two games apiece with a 109-93 Game 4 victory.

Despite the ultimate margin, this was an incredible game played at the highest level, especially in the first half. Each team held a lead of as many as 10 points, and the game featured dominant performances from several key players.

No one, however, was more important to the final outcome than Wade.

A knee injury has limited Wade for much of the postseason, both in terms of his athleticism as well as his ability to play with his customary level of intensity. But in Game 4, Wade was active from the start. He was aggressive in looking for his shot early, and came away with 10 first quarter points. He was flying around the court defensively, and ended up with six steals. Most critical, though, was his ability to provide a scoring punch that the Heat have been sorely missing.

Wade finished with 32 points on 14-of-25 shooting, to go along with six rebounds and four assists. He hadn’t been great in second halves of games in this series, and the fatigue of the knee issue was likely the main reason why. But with a little under nine minutes to play and the Heat leading by five, he came through on consecutive possessions.

After hitting a jumper in close, Wade reached into the passing lane and grabbed a steal. He headed out on the break, eluded a defender in the open floor, and then exploded for the one-handed slam which pushed the lead back to nine.

Wade’s performance was incredible, but it wouldn’t have been enough against these Spurs without some help from his teammates. And he got more than enough of it from James and Bosh.

LeBron came through on his guarantee to be more aggressive in this one, and once his team was down by 10 about halfway through the first quarter, that’s when he flipped the switch. James not only brought the ball up the floor to initiate the offense, he was running at three-quarter speed and attacking the paint with purpose on seemingly every first half possession.

James often found his teammates after forcing the defense to collapse, and was big on the boards, as well. He finished with 33 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists, to go along with a couple of steals and blocked shots.

Bosh completed the Big Three performance with 20 points and 13 rebounds, but his defense inside is what really gave his team the extra push they needed to complement the offensive prowess displayed by Wade and James.

On the Spurs’ side, Tony Parker showed no ill effects of the hamstring injury he suffered in the previous game, getting to the rim multiple times and scoring with spectacular finishes, or finding his teammates for open looks. But he did almost all of his damage in the first half, and didn’t score in 13 minutes of playing time over the final two periods.

In a game where Miami got top-level performances from all three of its stars on the same night, San Antonio wasn’t flawless enough in its execution to be able to match. The Spurs didn’t help themselves by turning the ball over 18 times, and they were unable to slow even one of the Heat’s three stars, and that made the proposition of coming away with the win virtually impossible.

“When Bosh, Wade and James score the way they did tonight and shoot it the way they did tonight, teams are going to have a difficult time if you help them and shoot poorly from the free‑throw line, as we did, and give over 20 points on turnovers,” Gregg Popovich pointed out afterward. “It’s not going to happen. When those guys play like that, you better be playing a more perfect game.”

On this night, perfection belonged to Wade, James, and Bosh.

Kevin Durant trolls Westbrook, haters with cupcake hat — now topped with a ring

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Back when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were breaking into the NBA together and learning how to win together, one of their veteran mentors was tough guy Kendrick Perkins. When Perkins thought someone was acting soft, he called that player a “cupcake.”

When news broke on the Fourth of July last summer that Durant was leaving OKC for Golden State, the NBA world freaked out. Except for Westbrook. He just posted one Instagram photo that day — a tiered tray of red, white, and blue cupcakes. It was meant as a subtle jab at Durant, but when word got out (via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated) what it meant, Thunder fans embraced it and had cupcake signs and clothing made for Durant’s return to Oklahoma City.

Durant had the last laugh — he’s got a new hat with a cupcake on it, topped by a ring.

Well played Durant. Well played.

Another report Rockets “aggressively” trying to clear cap space to chase Chris Paul

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Daryl Morey is big game hunting. Again.

The Rockets, with James Harden running Mike D’Antoni’s offense, made a leap up to the NBA’s second tier last season — then landed with a playoff thud. The team should be better the second season in the same system, but to get past the Warriors, the Rockets need more talent.

Hence the Rockets are going to chase Chris Paul. That’s not new news to anyone paying attention, but Chris Haynes laid it out in more detail in on SportsCenter.

The Rockets need talent and Chris Paul is unquestionably that. He and James Harden could figure out how to play together.

The problem is money. Chris Paul is going to demand max or near-max money, so close to $30 million. The Rockets enter the summer with about $10 million. The Rockets need to clear cap space and are ready to deal so long as they don’t take contracts back. Lou Williams will make $7 million next season, so even moving him and Patrick Beverley is not enough to land a Chris Paul or Paul Millsap. Moving Ryan Anderson ($19.6 million) or Eric Gordon ($12.9 million) helps much more.

That Morey is being aggressive isn’t the news, the question is can he find a willing partner to lower some money off his cap and give him a sense of what is to come. CP3 is going to meet with a lot of teams, but the Clippers do have advantages and are the favorites to retain him.

Jimmy Butler trade sets the stage for looming free agency

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(AP) — As draft night approached, some of the heavy hitters in the NBA – Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, Boston, the Clippers among them – were jockeying, making calls and looking for deals to try to position themselves to make a run at the Golden State juggernaut.

The Warriors’ greatness has forced the rest of the league to do deep self-examination and be aggressive in upgrading their rosters if they’re even going to have a chance to compete. The Celtics and Cavaliers were looking hard at Pacers star Paul George and Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, the Rockets and Spurs were looking at clearing cap space to make a run at some big-name free agents next week and the Knicks were, well, the Knicks.

Draft night always lays the groundwork for what will happen when the circus (officially known as free agency) begins on July 1. And with all of those contenders looking to make a splash, the biggest move was made by … the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Wolves reunited Tom Thibodeau with Butler, giving up two promising young players in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick to land one of the best two-way players in the game. The move should jumpstart Minnesota’s pursuit of its first playoff spot since 2004 and, the Wolves hope, pave the way for success in free agency.

“I think it will (help) a lot,” Thibodeau said. “With players, they look around the league, they see the makeup of the team, they see how they play, play together. That’s the main thing. Both offensively and defensively.”

The Timberwolves have long had difficulty attracting free agents to a relatively small market that spends four months of the year covered in ice and snow. Landing a top-15 player like Butler to team with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins sends a sign of how aggressive the teams could be.

The Bulls plunged head-first into a rebuild with the decision, and now it’s up to the Pacers to decide if they want to do the same.

Much to the dismay of Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard, George let it be known last week that he did not plan to re-sign in Indiana when he becomes a free agent next summer. Most of the league assumes that he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, who appear to be in a tug-of-war with the rival Celtics for George’s attention.

“I’m confident we’ll get something,” Pritchard told reporters in Indianapolis on Friday.

One of the big markets affected on Thursday night was at point guard, the deepest position in the league. Philadelphia, the Lakers, Sacramento, New York and Dallas all drafted point guards in the top 10, which could diminish the options for veterans like Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Jeff Teague and Patty Mills.

The elite point guards available – Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry – should have no trouble finding significant contracts. With Tony Parker suffering a serious injury in the playoffs, the Spurs were reportedly trying to clear space to make a run at Paul, who is widely considered the best point guard in the league. Paul has spent the last six seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, but has yet to advance to the Western Conference finals.

The Clippers are trying to make a decision about retooling around the core of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but really it’s a decision that depends largely on Paul’s thinking. He has long struggled to win big in the postseason, and heading to San Antonio to join with Kawhi Leonard or Houston to team up with James Harden could prove to be more attractive.

Lowry figures to remain in Toronto with a Raptors franchise that he has helped put back on the map, but after that there will be few teams in the market for a high-priced starting point guard. Denver, Utah, New York and Indiana could wade into those waters. But if they look at themselves as still being a couple of year away, they might be hesitant to spend big bucks on a veteran.

Other big names available include Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Andre Iguodala. And while some of the very biggest names like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry figure to stay put, it only ramps up the sense of urgency for teams that have big holes to fill.

The clock is ticking and Thursday night provided the first steps toward making big improvements to the roster.

The Timberwolves rocked the boat with Butler, but the waters were calm after that, which should only mean one thing: It’s about to get real choppy when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.

 

Report: Dallas picks up option on Yogi Ferrell for next season. As expected.

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When teams sign a guy out of the D-League, or late second-round picks/undrafted guys as you see this summer, they are often announced as “a three-year deal.” The reality, this is a non-guaranteed contract (or at most a guaranteed contract for a short period of time) with team options for future years.

Why teams do that is guys like Yogi Ferrell.

Dallas snapped him up out of the D-League last season when they needed a point guard, and Ferrell proved to be a solid rotation-level player to bring off the bench. With that Dallas now has the option to bring him back at a good price next season, and they will do just that, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Sources say the Mavs have informed PG Yogi Ferrell that they are picking up his team option for next season, an easy decision after he proved himself capable of being a rotation player after his promotion from the D-League.

Ferrell will make $1.3 million next season, a steal for a rotation player. Dallas needs that, because the cost of keeping Nerlens Noel could push the Mavericks close to the luxury tax.

If Ferrell keeps playing like he did last season, and his big payday is coming in a couple of years.